I think 50% of people right off the bat are not going to click through and read this article because they don’t want to be bothered with a political rant, which is unfortunate because I think those people might be disillusioned to the more broad meaning of ‘politics’, having been exposed to all of the very loud ignorance one might find on the internet today.
To clarify, I’m not writing to take one side or another in some unintelligible liberal vs. conservative argument. In reality, the type of politics I’m referring to has little to do with the details of political parties in a specific country or the ideals of a motivated lobbyist group pandering to achieve some leg up in some business transaction or otherwise.
Allow me begin by elaborating a bit on what ‘politics in music’ means before people start to freak the fuck out. In the 1980’s we had The Dead Kennedys, in the 1990’s we had Rage Against The Machine, in the 2000’s there was Propagandhi, and now in the 2010’s we have underground bands like Resolution 15 paving the way for the next generation of loud, activist bands. There are tons of other bands out there who are extremely loud about a movement to join with those I just listed off the top of my head, but when you group them all together, it’s easy to see a picture being painted of the ‘politics’ I’m referring to.
I decided to write this piece in response to having seen a lot of people complain over the last few years about politics in music and how it doesn’t belong. So it raises the question I ask in the title; is there a place for politics in music?
My initial response is, “hell fucking yes there is.” I say this because in my mind, nearly every lyric of every band has some powerful element that can be taken as a political ideal. Every song has some sense of being for or against something or being positive or negative about something. The moment you take a side on anything you’ve immediately become ‘somewhat’ political about it.
There are some bands that avoid opinion altogether, but I would argue that most metal bands out there are mad as hell about something, and you will either agree or disagree, which then places you on one side of an argument or the other. Is it political to have opinions and bring them into music? Not necessarily. But it can be, and in many cases it is.
Let’s explore the lyrical element a bit further. We have bands like Lamb of God who challenge the idea of war (among many other things), Behemoth who challenge the security of a god, Megadeth attacking capitalism (earlier on) and Arch Enemy calling for all-out revolution.
There are underground bands in many countries using their music as a weapon against tyranny; the lyrics specifically attacking a regime or dictator or vocally preaching against oppression. These are most definitely political applications for the lyrics and they make these bands undeniably political in my mind.
If we look at activism as the tell-tale sign for whether a band is political or not we can point to Rage Against The Machine as the most obvious. From rallies to support for the oppressed and even trying to post bail for suspected cop killers, this band has stuck its neck out on many occasions receiving both negative and positive responses from fans and the general public.
But perhaps we could take the term ‘activist’ and apply it a bit further and ask about the extremists in the Norwegian black metal scene. Are those who burn churches not taking an activist stance in the political fight against Christianity? And what about those who are not extremists and only preach the beliefs of the black metal scene? Are they not at least taking a political stance? At the same time could we not argue that self-labeled Christian bands who preach in their lyrics are political activists advocating in favor of Jesus?
We can go on and on about specific topics but I think oppression and religion are the two most obvious political ideals making their way into the musical world. My opinion is that there is a place for this conversation in music. I love metal and I love arguing my political points. I fight for what I believe to be right and why should my music not reflect that which I stand for?
Perhaps some people will draw the line where they feel there is too much politics coming from one particular group or another, but I think a very loud artist like that might not have you as their target audience anyway.
Maybe I’m totally crazy in my viewpoint on politics in music, but the bridge between the two seems very obvious. I might go as far as to say you might not even have metal music if not for politics… but I think that point will take an article by itself to justify. For now I’ll leave those who disagree with me with one task: Pick your top three favorite bands and read the lyrics. You might be surprised at just how much political opinion is sitting right in front of your face.